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Education Science

Earth's Species To Be Cataloged On the Web 147

Posted by kdawson
from the can-you-spell-noah's-ark dept.
Matt clues us in to a project to compile everything known about all of Earth's 1.8 million known species and put it all on one Web site, open to the world. The effort is called the Encyclopedia of Life. It will include species descriptions, pictures, maps, videos, sound, sightings by amateurs, and links to entire genomes and scientific journal papers. The site was unveiled today in Washington where the massive effort was announced by some of the world's leading institutions. The project is expected to take about 10 years to complete; it starts out with committed funding for 1/4 of that."
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Earth's Species To Be Cataloged On the Web

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  • by yurik (160101) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @10:54PM (#19047815)
    Wikimedia Foundation already has a project called WikiSpecies -- http://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page [wikimedia.org] . Not sure how different that project will be.
  • by Easy2RememberNick (179395) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:00PM (#19047867)
    ...and also this http://www.tolweb.org/tree/ [tolweb.org]
  • What About... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:04PM (#19047891)
    the tree of life project: http://tolweb.org/tree/phylogeny.html [tolweb.org]
  • by femto (459605) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:36PM (#19048081) Homepage

    It's interesting to read this FAQ [eol.org] from the Encyclopedia of Life:

    6. What about Wikipedia?

    Wikipedia inspired us. Wikipedia accumulated about 1.5 million entries in English in its first four years. That gave us confidence that our tasks are manageable with current technology and social behaviour, although the expert community in a lot of the subjects for pages in Encyclopedia of Life may be only a handful of people. Wikipedia has also created some species pages, as have other groups. Encyclopedia of Life will, we hope, unite all such efforts and increase their value. The Wikimedia Foundation is a member of the Encyclopedia's Institutional Council.

    They don't mention WikiSpecies directly, but would have to be aware of it with the Wikimedia Foundation on board. It will be interesting to see what license will the EoL be using and will it be WikiSpecies (GNUFDL) compatible? Hopefully the Wikimedia Foundation will give some good advice.

    Given that a stated aim of the EoL is to get lots of people involved and be a cooperative effort, a copyleft license might promote cooperation. Perhaps it would be worth a few Slashdotters politely contacting the EoL [eol.org] and suggesting that copyleft would be a good thing for the EoL?

  • Already being done (Score:3, Informative)

    by jaiagreen (1099645) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:40PM (#19048103)
    Discoverlife.org has been doing something very similar for several years and claim to have cataloged over a million species.
  • by Bob54321 (911744) on Tuesday May 08, 2007 @11:40PM (#19048109)
    I had a look at a couple of the page mock-ups on the site. The information seems organized in a much better way than on the Wiki-species page. If the actual site turns out to be as good as the examples I will use it frequently.
  • Re:Storytime (Score:3, Informative)

    by femto (459605) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @02:11AM (#19048815) Homepage

    Except the Encyclopedia of Life will be a catalogue, not an identification key.

    A catalogue simply records that a species exists and is usually organised by scientific name. You can't find something unless you know its full name, or are prepared to flick through and compare your find with 1.8 million entries.

    An identification key on the other hand is organised to answer the question "What is that?", a bit like trying to guess what animal someone is thinking of by asking them questions. A key allows you to specify an increasing list of characteristics and answers with a decreasing list of possible species. Here's an example key [ex.ac.uk] for a small number of bugs.

  • by turkeyfish (950384) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @02:22AM (#19048857)
    There is a far greater need for this kind of project that you realize. Very few people are familiar with even a small number of species that they can identify and distinguish from others. For many species the amount of information available is vast and spread over the globe so that for most species, only the "tip of the iceberg" appears on the internet or even in many monographs. Perhaps most importantly, we as humans depend on these myriads of species for our very survival, often without even realizing it (eg. Have you taken a breath today? If so, could you name and identify the species that provided it to you? What can you tell us about whether these species will survive climate change or other human induced disturbances?) With a rapidly (catastrophically) changing world, our very survival will depending on a clear understanding of how these species are interacting, how they will adapt or fail to adapt to human-induced global changes, such as climate change, habitat destruction, loss due to competition from invasive species, etc.

    Because in the past the natural world was vast and largely undisturbed, it acted as a buffer that insulated us from the kinds of changes in biodiversity we will see in the future. We have in many ways already spent this patrimony and our future as a species is now far less certain. We tend to underestimate the damage that billions of humans operating mostly in total ignorance have on the subtle creations and interactions that it has taken 2.5 billion years of earth history to produce. We are talking about myriads of interactions that without the some type of electronic network, we have no hope of understanding in the time frames necessary to make fundamental decisions about future human welfare. Whether the network is wireless or still largely nailed to the www 10 years into the future is hardly material compared to the question of whether or not we will be able to put this information grid in place in time for it to make a difference for humanity's future.

    My concern (as a practicing fish taxonomist) is whether the task of constructing the "database" may, like so many of these kinds of projects before, dry up or divert resources critically needed for experts to simply learn how to identify many of the organisms and properly name them. Organisms don't come with ID tags and while one can use "molecular markers", one has to establish a map between the markers and the whole organisms being identified. A molecular marker, will not create an isomorphism between usage of a name in the previous literature, without the ability to assess the validity of the identification at each step used. This requires expert identification. This problem is compounded by the fact that most organisms actually have had multiple names that have been inconsistently used to discuss varying aspects of their biology. Sadly, the human expertise needed to make identifications is very small. The problem is not that one can not make an ID. The problem is establishing a scientific basis to know whether the ID is accurate and then consistently applying it as one interprets previous usage of names. At each stage of the compilation process the ID's have to correspond or one is doing little more than creating a giant "mash" in which multiple species are being confused, with respect to this or that bit of information. A project such as this tends to gloss over the practical difficulties by indicating that it will be "working with the experts", without precisely saying how.

    A critical element is how will such experts be supported going forward so that they can afford to participate in a meaningful, sustainable way. Sadly, big projects have a way of diverting critical resources toward on-line compilations that are often impressive to the layperson, but full of inaccuracies that are apparent only to an expert. Its not clear what institutional mechanisms are in place for some form of distributed, "self-correction" or who will decide what and how editorial (taxonomic?) decisions will ultimately
  • by logixoul (1046000) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @06:12AM (#19049847)

    ...a copyleft license might promote cooperation. Perhaps it would be worth a few Slashdotters politely contacting the EoL and suggesting that copyleft would be a good thing for the EoL?
    Well, from that same FAQ:

    A possible area of obstacles or dangers is intellectual property. The Encyclopedia will be very generous with credit and recognition, and we will soon be posting a general statement of principle about open and accessible content, encouraging sharing, and so on. The world of the Internet and software changes so fast, we know we need to be very alert to what are considered good and prudent practices.
    A bit vague but at any rate they do know about copyleft...
  • BugGuide.net (Score:3, Informative)

    by mikeboone (163222) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @07:14AM (#19050139) Homepage Journal
    Take a good picture and post the bug image to BugGuide [bugguide.net]!
  • by maxume (22995) on Wednesday May 09, 2007 @07:29AM (#19050273)
    Here's another one:

    http://www.itis.gov/index.html [itis.gov]

No one gets sick on Wednesdays.

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